Questions & Definitions en español
What is the Problem?
In parts of Auburn and Algona, groundwater – the water that flows under the ground through soil – is contaminated with a degreaser called trichloroethene (TCE) and its breakdown products. It is believed that the chemicals originated from the Boeing Auburn facility. The contaminated groundwater (called a plume) flows north and northwest away from the Boeing Property into portions of northeast Algona and southwest Auburn. To date, the chemicals found are at low levels and are not expected to pose a risk to human health and the environment. If chemicals are found to be an immediate risk, Ecology will direct Boeing to implement interim actions to reduce risk.
Where are the contaminated groundwater plumes?
There are two plumes associated with the Boeing property. The groundwater in the vicinity generally flows to the north and northwest, and the plumes underlie the Boeing property, northeastern Algona and western Auburn.
When did the contamination occur?
Boeing does not know when the contamination occurred. TCE was used at the facility from the 1960s to the early 1990s, so Boeing believes the contamination occurred during this timeframe. Use of TCE at the facility was phased out in the early 1990s. Therefore, it is not an ongoing release from current operations at the facility.
Why didn't Boeing and Ecology tell the community about the contamination sooner?
Ecology and Boeing signed an Agreed Order (legal agreement) in 2002 as required by Washington’s cleanup law the Model Toxics Control Act (MTCA). The Agreed Order (AO), was amended in 2006. Since the AO became effective in 2002, Ecology and Boeing have been working to understand the contamination and develop a plan for cleanup. As part of this work in 2009, Ecology identified that contamination had spread beyond the Boeing property boundary, but how far was unknown. Ecology immediately directed Boeing to begin an expedited sampling plan to identify the extent of the contamination, and has been sharing results with the community. Ecology has been providing regular project updates to the cities of Algona, Auburn, and Pacific since fall 2011, and continues to engage with the community about the cleanup process. Sampling proceeded in stages, and by late 2012 data from test wells near Algona indicated that the investigation should extend into that community. Ecology presented its findings and study plans at community meetings in early 2013.
Why is this process taking so long?
Boeing’s cleanup must follow the Washington State Model Toxics Control Act (MTCA) cleanup regulations. This requires a robust investigation of the contamination and potential cleanup options. Currently, the project is in the Remedial Investigation phase. The size and complexity of the contaminated area add to the work needed to complete the investigation.
Is the drinking water safe?
Yes. The water in homes and businesses in the area comes from public water systems that are regularly monitored by the Washington Department of Health (Health). Ecology continues to evaluate the boundaries of the contaminated groundwater. To date, the contaminated area is outside protection areas for public water system wells. Also, the area’s groundwater flow carries the contaminants away from these wells. Finally, recent data collected as part of the Health Department’s monitoring under the safe drinking water act show no chemicals of concern detected.
Private wells are not monitored by the Health Department. Contact Ecology if you have a private well.
Can I eat fruits and vegetables from my garden?
Yes. Studies have been done on garden sites with higher levels of the chemicals found at the Boeing site. Those studies suggest that fruit and vegetables from gardens using groundwater containing these chemicals are safe for adults and children. The chemicals do not build up in the plant or fruit tissue.
Are my pets safe?
Yes. Ecology compared the results of samples taken from surface water in Algona to a study conducted by the National Park Service on the impacts of TCE to wildlife. None of the samples Ecology evaluated are high enough to harm wildlife or domestic pets.
Is the sheen or discoloration in ditches related to this contamination?
TCE and its breakdown products are colorless and odorless at the concentrations found in groundwater and surface water. The sheen of rainbow colored oil sometimes seen in ditches likely from iron bacteria commonly found in wetlands.
How can these chemicals affect my health or my children's health?
People respond to chemical exposure in different ways. Some people can have contact with a chemical and never be harmed. Others may be more sensitive and get sick. Whether you have a reaction or get sick from contact with chemicals depends on many factors, including the frequency and duration of exposure and overall health. For more information about health impacts, visit the Chemical and Health Concerns page or contact the Washington Department of Health.
Is there any work being done now to clean up the contamination?
A bioremediation Pilot Study was conducted in northeast Algona to test the effectiveness of a previously-successful cleanup method in these site conditions. Click here for more information.
What can I do to stay informed and involved?
To stay up to date on the project, join our project listserv. You can also email us or call our hotline 253-219-7645 with questions. Ecology encourages feedback from the community on the cleanup process. Public comment periods are held at key points throughout the cleanup process. To learn more about the cleanup process, click here.
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